The unbelievable story of how a council was tricked into paying £440k for a fake statue of an Egyptian princess said to be 3,300 years old
Master forger Shaun Greenhalgh, who created fakes in his garden shed, has returned to Bolton Museum to say sorryIt was the audacious art fraud that fooled seasoned experts and led to the discovery of a cottage industry of fakes being offered to galleries and auction houses across the globe.
In 2003, Bolton council paid £440,000 for a 'Egyptian' statuette said to be a figurine of the granddaughter of King Tutankhamun.
The 'Amarna Princess' stood at just 20 inches tall.
It was authenticated as 3,300 years-old by the Egyptology department at Christie's and the British Museum ahead of the purchase for Bolton Museum.
In fact, the ancient relic turned out to be a fake a court was told was 'knocked together' in three weeks in a garden shed at the home of master forger Shaun Greenhalgh in Bromley Cross, Bolton.
The self-taught artist was revealed to have created numerous fakes, including statues said to have been made by artists Barbara Hepworth, Constantin Brancusi, Henry Moore and Man Ray.
Greenhalgh's elderly parents, George and Olive, admitted helping to sell their son's works.
Greenhalgh was jailed for four years and eight months and his parents received suspended prison sentences after a scam police believe netted them £850,000 over 17 years. In total, the court heard they had attempted to sell £2 million worth of fake works.
That was in 2007.
Now Greenhalgh, who was released from prison in 2010, has returned to Bolton Museum for the first time - and has issued an apology.
The visit last week was part of a new BBC series and he came face-to-face with staff.
Greenhalgh says of his deception: "I felt really bad over it. I committed a crime, it just seemed to happen but I'm not making excuses, I knew what I was doing.
"Everyone's been very nice."I was half expecting a dagger in my back."
Greenhalgh also spoke of his fond memories of the museum.
"I love Bolton Museum," he says.
"One of my greatest memories from when I was a child is the museum. Egyptology, art, natural history - this was the place that first inspired me."
In the documentary called 'Handmade in Bolton', he will be remaking four objects from the past using traditional methods and materials - including a ceramic plate in the style of Renaissance artist Bernard Palissy.
Palissy was renowned for using casts of live snakes, fish, frogs and lizards in his work.
Greenhalgh visited the museum with a film crew and director Waldemar Janusczak, a Sunday Times art critic was also fooled by the quality of one of his several hundred fakes.
The Art Institute of Chicago reportedly paid £61,225 for a figure made by him which was supposedly sculpted by 19th century French artist Gauguin.
Bolton Crown Court heard how the Greenhalghs carried out meticulous research before George Greenhalgh brazenly approached galleries and auction houses using his wife's maiden name, Roscoe, and claiming to be in possession of masterpieces and missing local treasures they claimed were family heirlooms.
The prosecution said the intricate forgeries showed 'enormous skill' on the part of Shaun Greenhalgh.
Bolton Museum reopened following a £3.8m refurbishment last September. The Amarna Princess, said to depict the daughter of Pharaoh Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti, is one of the centrepieces of its new Egyptology gallery. The council was subsequently repaid all the money.
Deputy council leader Martyn Cox said: "Mr Greenhalgh committed a serious offence for which he served a considerable prison sentence.
"Since then, the Amarna Princess has become somewhat of a local if not national curiosity and putting it on display seems appropriate. We are glad that Mr Greenhalgh is now putting his extraordinary talents to good honest use."
The BBC programme is expected to air later in the year.
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